Sunday, January 19, 2014

Me and the Boys

Among the writers collected in Daughters of Earth is Gwyneth Jones, and the paper following her story made reference to Deconstructing the Starships: Science, Fiction and Reality (Liverpool, 1999), a collection of Jones's critical writings.  Some of the quotations interested me, so I checked the book out from the university library and gobbled it down.  It's a lot of fun, written with little jargon, and has a lot of intriguing insights into writing, reading, and gender.  I just ordered my own copy (autographed, according to the online seller).

I may have more to say about her later, but for now I want to quote what Jones wrote about "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill Side," the James Tiptree Jr. story included in Daughters of Earth.  In a review of Sarah LeFanu's study of feminist sf, In the Chinks of the World Machine (Women's Press, 1988), Jones wrote:
Alice Sheldon, otherwise known as James Tiptree Jnr [sic], is a key icon in this [Le Fanu’s] study, the woman who fooled the sf establishment with her straightfaced presentation of male stereotypes – and was bitterly entertained, it is clear, when her victims responded with ecstatic little cries of recognition.  But while Alice Sheldon the feminist woman was surviving in her disguise – in the chinks of her male persona – Sheldon/Tiptree the writer achieved, for a while, megastar status in the sf establishment: and this is the paradox of feminist sf.  The successful women writers in sf are few, and feminism is certainly marginal; but the success, the stature and the influence of those few is about of all proportion to their numbers [123-4].
Specifically on "And I Awoke and Found Me Here..." she remarked in a review of another anthology where it appeared:
Almost any story by James Tiptree Jnr [sic] would add something to an anthology called Alien Sex.  The one Ms. Datlow has chosen, “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hillside…” is precisely about the alien sex fiend as a human fiction.  The aliens are here, and they aren’t interested.  Frankly, they don’t give a damn.
“And I Awoke…” is a story written by a woman who was pretending – for a whole cocktail of reasons – to be a man.  It foregrounds the plight of the male – cynically, satirically, and maybe just as a marketing ploy [144].
I think Jones would agree with me that the man who holds the stage in the story is an unreliable narrator.  It's comforting to find that I'm not the only person who's noticed that.

One more quotation from Jones, on another subject, reviewing Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash:
It has been said that popular taste cannot handle the idea of there being more than two viewpoints on any subject.  Anything more complicated than bad guys vs. good guys and you lose the mass market.  And then there’s the American liberal, who cannot handle one viewpoint.  Mr Stephenson, who I feel certain would sign himself a liberal, refuses to be labelled and docketed, nobly declines to take sides in any debate whatsoever … [151].
Such lovely snark.  But she's good on a number of things: I enjoyed very much her discussion of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis as children's authors, and also what she has to say about sex/gender and why everyone gets confused about it/them.  I'll probably be referring to her again as I wrote more about that latter topic.